A house fire that caused about $100,000 worth of damage on Willow Drive Sunday morning also led to an act of heroism when a neighbor who lives two doors down from the home that burned helped rescue an elderly man from the fire.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Megan Vega just moved to the Willow Drive neighborhood from Novato in July, with her two young children and her husband who is also in the Coast Guard. After helping rescue Petaluma resident Ray Elliot from the home that burned Sunday, Vega credited her experiences in the Coast Guard for her level head and quick action.
"It was frightening," Vega said Monday. "But the Coast Guard has provided me with such great training that it felt natural to be there and help, despite being surrounded by the fire."
As she lay sleeping in her bedroom on the second floor of her Willow Drive house early Sunday morning, Vega said she was suddenly awakened by the sound of an argument outside.
While she first thought it was merely a neighboring couple squabbling, she soon realized it was much more.
"I stood and listened for a moment, and then I suddenly saw smoke," she said. "I grabbed my cell phone and ran down the hall to the room where my mother was staying and told her I saw a fire next door. Then I ran downstairs, still in my pajamas, to see what was happening."
Vega took off in such a hurry that her mother — who helps Vega with her children while her husband is working — tried to follow her but slipped on the stairs in her haste. Her mother said she was fine and quickly followed Vega out the front door.
The scene two houses down, at 2901 Willow Drive, was chaotic, according to Vega. Elliot was standing a few feet inside the front door, holding a garden hose, surrounded by thick smoke. His 41-year-old daughter, Stephanie, was standing outside shouting at her father to drop the hose and come outside.
"He may have been a little out of it because of the fire and the smoke inhalation, but he just wasn't listening to anyone," said Vega. She confirmed that no one else was still inside the residence and then joined Elliot's frantic daughter in trying to coax the man out of the home.
"He made a move towards the door, like he was going to come outside, but then he just froze," said Vega.
With flames lapping closer to the downstairs and smoke enveloping her neighbor, Vega made a decision that something had to be done. "I just lunged toward him, grabbed him and pulled him outside," she said. "It was only a few steps inside the house, but there was smoke and fire everywhere."
After bringing the man outside, Vega, her mother and Elliot's daughter waited for the ambulance and fire trucks to arrive.
The homeowner was taken to Petaluma Valley Hospital for smoke inhalation. The Red Cross arrived and provided temporary housing for five residents, including the homeowner's daughter.
Coast Guard Lt. Erin Clume, Vega's supervisor, said that she was not surprised Vega had acted in such a calm manner.
"She responded quickly, thought the situation through and made a calculated decision to help," said Clume. "She's an operations specialist in the Coast Guard, which means she is charged with handling distress situations. For her to act the way she did is not surprising to me."